June 16, 2016
Central Atlanta Progress deeply values its relationship with the Coca-Cola Company, an organization that has served as a longtime CAP member. As our organization works to provide alternative transportation options to Downtown commuters, the Coca-Cola Company also serves as a vital transportation management association (TMA) partner. We recently sat down with Coke employees to get a full picture of the strides the company is taking to set an employer standard for alternative commute options.
When you discuss commute options with Eric Ganther and Thomas Hamed, transportation experts in the Coca-Cola Company's Global Workplace Strategy and Operations Division, you may not expect for the conversation to include talk of love.
But Ganther believes it's what drives people to change the story of a city. 'It's really a love thing,' he said. 'If you love your city, it can succeed.'
At the Coca-Cola Company, Ganther and Hamed work on alternative commute initiatives for employees, and in a workplace where the employee median age is approximately 46 years old, based in a city where car is king, it's no small feat to convince employees to reconsider their commute options.
'Atlantans drive to the bathroom,' Ganther joked. 'That's the city we built. There are lots of us now, and there are going to more. We are working to encourage people to consider something else.'
Coke has made what Ganther calls a 'visible commitment' to alternative commute options, and he means it quite literally. The Red Bus, he notes, is a key facet of the initiative. A small, red Coca-Cola branded shuttle bus that operates on a route between Coke's main Atlanta campuses and nearby transit stops, decreases midday commutes by about 800 trips a day. For those able to reach the North Springs MARTA station and catch a Red Bus at the Peachtree Center MARTA station, they can avoid a highly unpredictable and sluggish Georgia 400 commute and reach work in about 40 minutes.
Further, thanks to a commuter benefits program, Coca-Cola employees are eligible for MARTA and regional bus service subsidies, as well as a rideshare program through the Ride carpooling app. For employees who drive electric vehicles, they can plug in for free at one of Coke's 95 charging stations and power back up for the commute home.
Coke has made a 'visible commitment' to encouraging cycling, too. The installation of showers and locker rooms are a plus, yes, but the Chairman relinquishing his parking space for bike parking sent an even louder message. 'He believes it's the right thing to do,' said Ganther.
The commuters willing to cycle to work, Hamed noted, tend to skew younger than other commuter groups, but, overall, the challenge to change commuter behavior is a process of 'peeling away the resistances,' as Gander describes it, no matter what age. The truth is that some commute options, like MARTA or the Xpress bus, simply don't reach certain towns, making driving a must. For others, the answer to a non-car commute is simply 'No.'
'Other people are curious,' Gander said, 'and we like curious people. Curiosity makes for a good employee. Curious people are willing to try new things.'
A worldwide company with Atlanta as its home, Coca-Cola's various efforts to support this spirit of curiosity neatly dovetail with its global sustainability initiatives. 'Coca-Cola supports being climate-friendly and wants to be part of the solution,' Gander said. 'To the extent that Coca-Cola can take steps to encourage people to do differently, we consider it our duty. We're putting our money where our mouth is.'
As a major Atlanta employer, Gander believes there's any opportunity to partner with and learn from other organizations involved in commute option programs, including CAP. Together, he believes there's a unique opportunity to improve the city.
'We can change Atlanta's story from a sprawling nightmare to a place where forward-thinking people can share the road with each other,' he said. 'At our job, we work to help people find another way.'